Unlike their expansion rivals in NYC, Orlando had never qualified for the playoffs since their 2015 MLS debut, now hosting City in what’s sure to be a thriller.
In the season finale, City took on a Chicago Fire team on the cusp of the Eastern Conference play-in round. Following three consecutive wins against playoff teams, New York sat comfortably in the fifth seed, with a win giving them a chance at fourth place and home-field advantage if Columbus were to falter against Atlanta.
Chicago had only picked up four points in their last five, all from draws. A win would give them a spot in the play-in round, and the Fire were hungry for a result.
Just ten seconds after the whistle blew to begin play at Soldier Field, NYCFC allowed an early chance, as a swing-and-a-miss by Alex Callens let Robert Berić in on goal.
The shot by Chicago’s leading goalscorer drifted wide of the post, but the Fire would ignite in the early minutes, creating multiple attacking chances.
In the fifth minute, a shot by Frankowsky soared past a diving Sean Johnson and into the corner. The linesman’s flag came up shortly after however, negating the Chicago goal as it deflected off an offside Djordje Mihailovic.
City’s offense stepped up to match the early intensity soon after. Fourteen minutes in, Taty Castellanos brought down a perfectly placed ball over the Chicago defense before smashing the ball into the near post.
On a corner soon after, Alex Callens soared above the Fire defenders, heading the ball off the hands of Bobby Shuttleworth and into the net.
After trading opportunities, City doubled their lead at the half-hour mark. A perfect through-ball by Castellanos sent Gary Mackay-Steven into a one-on-one with Shuttleworth, who tipped the ball wide.
The Scottish winger chased the ball down, quickly tucking the ball into the net from a seemingly impossible angle.
Momentum would shift wildly back and forth in the following minutes, as a quick cross from Mihailovic found a wide-open Berić right in front of goal before Jesus Medina reestablished a two-goal lead with his third in four games.
A resilient Fire attack would level the score before the break however, as two dangerous balls into the box found themselves falling right to Frankowsky, who put them home in the 42nd and 43rd minutes.
Halftime couldn’t come quickly enough for New York, as Chicago put yet another shot on goal in the 44th minute. Johnson got his hands to the swerving shot, keeping the score level at halftime.
The second half didn’t meet the high-scoring offense from the first 45 minutes, but the intensity remained. Chances were abundant, with fantastic goalkeeping by Shuttleworth keeping the score level until the 75th minute, when he was unable to bail out a mistake by his defense for City’s fourth.
The 4-3 win made it 27 goals in the final ten matches of the regular season for NYCFC, with Castellanos and Medina combining for eight in the final five. Going into the playoffs and resumption of the CONCACAF Champions League to come later this month, it’s time for NYC’s talent to truly be put to the test.
The first test comes on the 21st, when the MLS Cup Playoffs kick off for the first round. City will take on an Orlando City side they have not beaten in two chances this season, losing 3-1 in the MLS is Back group stage and drawing 1-1 in Florida in October.
After narrowly defeating Columbus to take over third place a few weeks back, Orlando blew what seemed like a comfortable win as goals by Nashville in the 88th and 93rd minutes shocked Orlando and dropped them to fourth with a 3-2 loss.
Matches between the 2015 expansion sides have always been hard fought and close matches with drama and action. There is no doubt that the first ever postseason matchup between the two will only create more as the two clubs continue to grow a young but promising rivalry.